Bush Eye More on Home Front Than Battle Front
The instant President Bush beat the Iraq war drum, anti-war protestors called it a ploy to grab Iraqi oil, bully big and small nations into doing the U.S. bidding, and settle an old family score against Saddam Hussein. But Bush didn't need to shell out $100 billion to do any of these things. U.S. money and military might effectively guarantee U.S. global and regional dominance, and an obliging Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations provide plenty of cheap oil.
The oil producers immediately stated that they would make up any disruption in supplies caused by the warfare. The Gulf War was not fought to dump Hussein but to oust him from Kuwait. Crippling sanctions, intense weapons inspections, and Hussein's much deserved reputation as a butcher and warmonger had pretty much eviscerated him.
Iraq war fever has figured big in Bush's political calculation because it does more to help him at home than abroad. Politicians have long known that fighting a popular foreign war is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. A successful war against a Hitler or a Hussein will boost poll ratings, secure public allegiance, and in Bush's case, increase the Republican Party's political dominance, and most importantly, deflect public attention from domestic problems.
Before last November's elections, the Republicans clung to a razor thin majority in the House, and had a one-seat deficit in the Senate. A big vote shift to the Democrats could have torpedoed passage of Bush's then stalled Homeland security bill, his plan to privatize social security, impose school vouchers, school prayer, restrictions on abortion rights, Alaska drilling, and the confirmation of several of his controversial and much maligned nominees to the federal courts.
Big Republican off-year election losses would have also emboldened the Democrats, who have been roundly accused of political cowardice, to speak out against Bush's policies. But Bush's tough talk against Iraq, and his strong public approval for his handling of the war on terrorism helped Republicans grab more seats in the House and Senate. Bush's strong poll ratings insulated him from public potshots when he waffled on dumping incoming Senate majority Leader Trent Lott, and minimized the political damage to Senate Republicans from the Lott fall-out.
Also, in the months before Iraq war fever moved high on the public radarscope, liberal Democrats, the Congressional Black Caucus, civil rights, civil liberties, and women's groups, environmentalists, and anti-globalization activists had begun to shed their terror of being branded an unpatriotic. They started to peck at Bush on the Florida vote debacle, his refusal to back expanded hate crimes legislation, to speak out on police, and corporate abuses, to sign the Kyoto global warming treaty, his support of school vouchers, Alaska drilling, elimination of abortion funding, and his meat axe of civil liberties protections in the anti-terrorism bill.
This forced Bush to back-pedal and promise to crack down on corporate pillagers, to publicly soften his environmental obstructionism, and to promise to pump more funds into housing, education and job programs. Bush's lop-sided spending cuts on social programs especially galled the Congressional Black Caucus. On the eve of war, Caucus members noted that the $26 billion that Bush dangled in front of Turkey as aid in return for allowing the U.S. to station troops there could have boosted HIV/AIDS, homeless, and minority business programs.
But Iraq war fever quickly wiped Bush's mounting domestic woes from the news headlines and national debate, and paralyzed Congress. And it's likely to stay that way for a while. With the war in full swing, the national networks will blitz the public with a parade of generals, weapons experts, military analysts, and incessant talk of military tactics, strategy, and Post-Hussein pacification plans for the country. The more rabid right wing cable network talking heads will shrilly malign war protestors as traitors.
A smashing victory with minimal casualties, and few military bungles will send Bush's again political stock racing back toward the stars. A New York Times/CBS Poll taken the day the bombing started found that a big majority of Americans backed the attack and took pride in the American military. This rating surge is certainly much needed at a time when some polls showed that any Democrat other than Al Sharpton could beat Bush. It will make it even easier for Bush to get his agenda through Congress, enable him to fatten his already gargantuan campaign war chest for the 2004 elections, and make Democratic presidential contenders even more cautious in what they say about him.
As a genuine wartime president, Bush will keep a sharp eye on the battlefront, and a sharper one on the home front. When the Iraq war ends, this is where he still must fight his biggest battles.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. Visit his news and opinion Web site: www.thehutchinsonreport.com. He is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press).